Backyard Movie how-to


mmmm. Summer evenings are my favorite. I am always looking for a good excuse to be outside when the sun goes down—s’mores, stargazing, or of course, the quintessential backyard movie night.

As the wife of a film fanatic and former Circuit City salesman (I used to visit Brent at work in college and admire him in his pinkish-maroon Circuit City shirt), I have been required come to appreciate a great backyard set up. So here, with the combined efforts of my techie husband and untechie self, are a few of the tips we’ve learned.
1. Find a good spot. If you have a couple spots to choose between, try them out. Issues you might not have thought about, like how far from the screen you’ll be sitting or street lights shining right by the screen may make one spot a top pick once you’ve tried it.

2. Your projector also needs a good spot. The higher you can mount the projector the better. Right now we just place ours on a table in the lawn. This works but no one can sit right in front of the screen. Getting the projector installed at the height of the screen is ideal, if you can swing it.

3. Set up the screen. I’ll let Brent take it away with 4 cheap DIY options we’ve tried or thought about trying:

Hi everyone, this is AmberLee’s techie husband, Brent. Here’s the thing about the screen. Part of the image quality is the type of screen you use. Being cheap, I have tried all kinds of DIY options over the last couple years that have given us pretty decent image quality:

The first screen that I made used pine wood as a frame with curtain backing that I purchased from JoAnne’s. I then added some backing and grommets to the fabric and stretched it onto the frame. This gave a nice lightweight screen that I could then remove when we were done, and fold up into a bag, which helped keep it clean. With my limited sewing ability, I was never able to make this strong enough (or baby proof), but if someone really knew what they were doing they could do a good job at creating something that can take the stress of the stretched fabric. The only limitation here is the size of the fabric. The last thing you want is a seam in your screen and so you are limited to about a 5′ high screen.

The second screen I used on the same frame. I went to Home Depot and picked up a panel of vinyl that is made for commercial bathrooms. I found one that had a clean smooth back. I then used heavy duty velcro to velcro it onto the frame. It made a great screen. It is a little more of a challenge to store but didn’t cost more than $40 all together. This screen is limited to about 4′ tall.

The third option we’ve tried is a white wall, actually an off-white wall. We’ve thought about painting it with reflective paint to add some reflectivity. This helps you start your movies sooner, like you could do with a more expensive projector. Of course, this may not be for everyone who wants a permanent wall dedicated to movie viewing.

A forth option is one roll of 53″ white seamless paper. This is the heavy roll paper that photographers use as backdrops for product photography, and it is available in camera supply stores. This is not great outdoors but could be an inexpensive option indoors.

UPDATE: We also like Leanne‘s idea of using a white shower curtain with a curtain rod taped to the bottom. Affordable, flat, and easy to roll up and keep clean. Thanks, Leanne!

4. Get the system. Ya, this is clearly Brent’s area of expertise:

PROJECTOR. When choosing a projector, remember this. The bigger the screen, the better the resolution you need to be able to see the image. A High Definition Projector is your best bet. Look for something that has an HDMI input and you should be in good shape. Beyond that, as you increase the price of the projector what you generally find is the brightness level of the projector increases. That will allow you to start your movies earlier in the evening, which may or may not be worth the extra money to you.

AUDIO. This is where most people skimp. But this is the part that makes the most difference. It doesn’t do you much good to create a giant image and then force your guests to guess what the people are saying. That said, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to make a great sound system. This is not a place where you need surround sound or high quality speakers, volume is more important than clarity. I live in a place where no one cares if I am blasting my system at 11pm while watching The Bourne Identity (or Pride and Prejudice) but even if you have neighbors that don’t appreciate the volume, you still need something that can project the sound to your guests. Without walls to reflect the sound you typically need more than you would indoors.

I would suggest that you get a stereo receiver or old sound system that is around. People want surround sound in their homes so this is something you can pick up cheap on craigslist. You then want to find some speakers. Again, these do not need to be high quality speakers that you would use in your home theater in your home. I looked on craigslist for DJ speakers and went with some of the cheapest I could find.

BLURAY. If you can show your movies in bluray, do it. As your screen gets bigger the image quality is stretched. DVD’s produce about 500 lines of resolution, bluray gives you 1080 lines of resolution. That is twice as much picture that you are going to stretch. If you can’t get your copy of Anne of Green Gables on Bluray (they don’t make it, I have looked for AmberLee’s sake), at least pull out your bluray player to project the DVD. Most Bluray players try to convert the image and double the lines that are produced. You will still see a difference between that and Bluray, but it will be much better than just playing the disc on a laptop or old DVD player.

5. Think about seating and lighting. The perfect seating for us has been a blanket for the kids in the front, and folding chairs for the grown ups in the back. But you can get creative (think hay bales). You’ll also want to think about having a little ambient lighting so guests can find their way to the bathroom or the snack table without tripping over things or other people. A string of lights at the snack table can be just enough.

6. Two words. Bug spray. Or citronella. Or incense. Or if the night is cool enough, piles of blankets are a nice alternative.

7. A good flick. Okay, what are your favorites for a get together? (Ever since seeing this movie map I’ve been wanting to host a 50-day film fest.) In the pic we’re watching one of our faves, Big Fish.

8. Good food. I adore a great. gourmet. popcorn. recipe. I also love prepping some cuisine from the movie we’ll be showing, if I have the time. But one of my all-time favorites is something our good friends showed us, and it is great for an impromptu movie night. Have everyone bring a bag of candy or snacks, hand out bowls or paper bags, and let everyone create their own custom movie mix. Simple. Perfect.

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